We’re not only losing ground to ISIS, we’re also losing the hearts and minds of thousands of impressionable young men and women to radical Islam. It’s not surprising. While ISIS publishes polished videos and Fortune 500-quality annual reports glorifying their acts of violence, the U.S. has spent years rearranging the deck chairs (the bureaucracies) overseeing pro-American messaging.
Most Americans have probably never heard of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which consumes more than $700 million taxpayer dollars and oversees the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the Middle East Broadcasting Networks and Radio Free Asia. To say that this agency has been in a state of utter disarray for the past several years is being kind. Political jockeying, lack of direction, mission confusion and union battles have meant that during this period of intense Jihad recruiting, the U.S. has been without a voice. That has to change.
Finally, after years of debate and delay, Andrew Lack, a top former news executive, has been named the first-ever CEO of the sprawling enterprise. The hope is that he will streamline the organization, clarify the mission and bring much-needed professionalism to the task of convincing the world that U.S. values and beliefs are…what, exactly?
Not only have we suffered from bureaucratic lapses, but we are also hampered by today’s culture. The idea of speaking up on behalf of the U.S. makes liberal elites break out in hives, which has been part of the BBG’s problem. The New York Times reported that the staff has been “up in arms about pending legislation that would change the organization into….an overtly propaganda arm of the United States government.” The staff, to remind, that is hired to convey our message abroad.
Ibn Warraq, renowned scholar of Islam, recently spoke at Yale about U.S. foreign policy:
“We are engaged in a war of ideas, with our principal enemy: an ideology…. Islamic terrorism is not caused by poverty, lack of education, sexual deprivation…or lack of economic opportunity…. There are two kinds of Jihad: terrorism, and slow penetration of Western institutions subverting Western laws and customs from within. Ignorance, naivety, arrogance, political correctness, sheer laziness, sentimentality…have led to Islamic successes in penetrating the universities, from the Voice of America, the Pentagon…PBS, to the universities and colleges where Islamic propaganda is shamelessly and openly disseminated.”
He likens the battle against Islamic radicals to the Cold War. But, he is mistaken in one sense. It was a proud and patriotic America that confronted the USSR. In the decades following World War II, most people in the United States were happy to celebrate our contributions to the defeat of Nazism and the liberation and restoration of Europe. Americans believed in themselves and their country.
Today, we have a president, and a younger generation, that views the U.S. through a different prism – one clouded by Vietnam, racial discord, and now the war with Iraq. It is “cool” to distrust and disdain the U.S., and the media feeds the skepticism. In covering the U.S. engagement in Afghanistan, for instance, news organizations have seldom reported on the military’s successes in building schools and providing basic services in that country; they prefer to zero in on instances of civilian casualties and misdeeds by our soldiers. The coverage leads us to doubt our military, and our morals.
That uncertainty is widespread and perpetrated by our schools. A typical high school U.S. history course focuses on our mistreatment of Native Americans, the scourge of slavery, and the Vietnam War. The role played by the U.S. in World War II merits at best a footnote. Students emerging from our colleges are well versed in issues of gender and race but have no idea why the shortcomings of socialism crushed the Soviet Union.
How can we persuade people everywhere that our system of government is the best in the world when we don’t even try to convince our own schoolchildren? How can we celebrate our commitment to freedom and tolerance when our intelligencia exploits our racial divisions? In India this week, President Obama criticized that country’s human rights shortcomings, but to soften his words admitted, "There were moments in my life where I've been treated differently because of the color of my skin." Yes, Mr. President, you’ve had a hard life.
We should indeed debate the issues that challenge us. It is important to question and challenge our government, to point out injustice and inequity, to take full advantage of our freedom to do so. But perhaps our media and educational elites, in their zeal to challenge the tenets that have made the U.S. the destination of the downcast all over the world, are undermining our ability to tell our story. Their prevailing voice is censorious; the dominant opinion belittles our country and our core. We need a balance. How can we fight an ideological battle if we are so uncertain of ourselves? Do we have essential values that we believe in, and that can help us in the battle against radical Islam?
We believe in freedoms that the Jihadists forbid. We believe in free speech that can be damaging but that is essential to our society. We believe in freedom of religion; those beheading hundreds of innocents because they are “infidels,” do not. We believe in life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That credo attracts tens of thousands each year to our country. They come for economic potential, for sure. But, they also come in pursuit of an ideal that has been celebrated for more than two hundred years, and that many have died to protect.
It is time to take our story more positively to the 215 million people around the globe reached by our broadcasts. Congress must coordinate with the State Department to oversee the work of Voice of America and other U.S. news agencies, with a view to aligning message and mission. We have seen the impact of ISIS propaganda, and also of the spin coming from other adversaries, like Russia and China. While the U.S. will never embrace the kind of misinformation spun out by these entities, we should take this war of ideas seriously, putting aside our intellectual squeamishness. It is time to take the gloves off, and herald the values and ideas that have made our country the envy of the world.
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